During assembly on Wednesday, February 19, Becky Tan '20 and Tracy Xue '21 made a presentation, on behalf of the Current Events Club, on the coronavirus. Their prepared remarks follow:

On December 30, 2019, eight doctors of Wuhan Central Hospital in China first predicted a potential outbreak of what appeared to be a new virus. Their concern was reported in Hong Kong newspapers but silenced in mainland China. The Chinese government reprimanded these doctors for “spreading false rumors.”

Unfortunately, their warning was no false rumor.

Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, turned out to be the epicenter of the outbreak of what is now known as COVID-19. To date, more than 75,000 people have been infected and the death toll has just passed 2000 yesterday, indicating a mortality rate of 2%, considerably lower than the similar viral outbreaks of MERS in 2013 and SARS in 2003.

However, critics of China worry that China could be under-reporting cases of COVID-19 as they’ve been suspected of doing with past outbreaks.

To date, 27 countries have reported cases of COVID-19, and there are currently 29 cases in the U.S. Across the globe, people who have recently traveled to China are being quarantined. Many countries airlifted their citizens back from China, where they’re facing additional weeks of quarantine.

The Chinese government has responded by closing animal markets, shutting public transportation, constructing new health facilities, and converting existing public spaces into what the government calls “hospitals” but what critics believe are merely quarantine centers without adequate doctors and equipment.

Although reports were filed as early as December 31, the official warnings did not come until nearly a month later, on January 23. Without context, patients can easily confuse the virus’s symptoms with normal flu symptoms because of their similarities. Therefore, COVID-19 is exceptionally contagious because of this lack of concern and its extremely long incubation period: carriers may not even display any symptoms until up to three weeks after being infected. Although COVID-19 is not the most deadly, its aptitude to go undetected perpetuates the especially rapid spread.

Along with the FIRST official warning came the sudden announcement of Wuhan’s lockdown, leaving its 11 million residents in panic.

Dr. Li Wenliang, one of the first reprimanded doctors who warned about the virus in late December, was found infected by the virus in January and died from it on February 6. His death brought tears and anger to millions of Chinese people and suddenly, appeals for “freedom of speech” went viral online.

But it only took the government a few hours to take them down.

China has long restricted its citizen’s access to social media and the internet, but some citizens have recently posted material online claiming that there are extreme shortages of food, medicine, and emergency supplies. Some of those citizen journalists have stopped posting, leading people to question if China has detained them.

If you would like to help the people of China or other victims of COVID-19, you can visit the webpage of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy for ideas.

Becky added that this has special significance for her since much of her extended family lives in Wuhan.